West Chester’s Goose Creek fire of 1931

In the recent Earth Day commemorations, commentators mentioned the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, which although hardly the first time the chemically-polluted surface of that river in Cleveland caught fire, was strategically timed to dramatize environmental efforts building at that time toward the first Earth Day the next year.

West Chester had its own river fire and environmental 9/11 89 years ago. Goose Creek, which flows through the east side of West Chester on its way to the Delaware River, caught fire on September 11, 1931. According to research by Professor Jim Jones in 2006,

“A road paving company stored tar and other flammable materials in tanks near the creek at Union Street. One tank leaked, and some neighborhood boys accidentally set fire to the resulting oil slick near the Nields Street bridge. The fire spread upstream along the creek and burned down fences and sheds belonging to the houses on Franklin Street. The heat destroyed the Lacey Street bridge and the flames ignited the tanks at Union Street. The fire burned for three hours and closed down the railroad. No one was killed, but several were injured when the crowd of onlookers panicked and began to run.”

Daily Local News coverage of the fire compiled by Professor Jones (download it here) says, in the dramatic language of the period:

“Confronted by a roaring fury of flames and enveloped in billowing clouds of dense black smoke, fear-stricken householders, property owners and volunteer firemen from every end of town and every walk of life, battled into submission one of the most spectacular and dangerous fires in the history of the borough.”

Jim comments that “I was part of the annual Goose Creek cleanups for a lot of years. In the first year Goose Creek still seemed pretty dead, but I remember seeing our first fish a year or two later, and then seeing larger fish each year after that. At the same time, the amount of trash that we collected went down, leading to the formula ‘Trash weight down = fish weight up.'”

Yes, streams like Goose Creek are a lot cleaner now, thanks to initiatives begun in the 1960s and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) enacted on 1/1/70. Only continued efforts, in West Chester and elsewhere, to keep such programs viable will continue protecting environmental and human health and safety.

Special feature: West Chester Co-op

The West Chester Co-op is working hard to build a member-owned (cooperative) full-service grocery store in West Chester.  The store will provide daily access to fresh, healthy, local food, and will be walkable for those in the Borough and have parking for those who don’t.

They now have over 300 members in their campaign to launch full-scale operations! The Co-op already has regular special events and a table on Saturdays at the West Chester Growers Market.

Cooperatives are businesses formed not to earn profits for investors but to serve the needs of their members.  A cooperative offers our community the opportunity to build together something we all want.

The Food Co-op hired a consultant to produce an investment-grade projection of revenue for a store in our community; so we know it can work.

Cooperatives start through community support: many small investments from as broad a base as possible assure that the business reflects the community.  The Co-op is building that equity base right now.

The Food Co-op is more than a grocery store: its mission is to enhance the well-being of the people of West Chester by promoting healthy and mindful eating, improving access to sustainably produced food, helping those in need to secure quality food, advancing sustainable and humane agriculture, supporting local farms, and building community through cooperative enterprise.

The Co-op seeks to bring transparency and accountability to every step of the food production and distribution process from farm to table, providing confidence for educated consumer choice and food that the community can trust. Nutritious food is a gift to the health and well-being of an entire population.

Member-owners make a one-time $400 investment (there is an installment plan and gift certificates are available). The Co-op is nearing its target to move into the next phase of development; your investment will help put them over the top.

You may email the Co-op here or join on-line.  Please support our friends and community: we’re all on the same team for healthy environment and food!